Core Competencies of the Missionary Disciple
During my sophomore year at Franciscan University of Steubenville, a guy named Mike befriended me. He was a year ahead of me, well-liked and respected. He was exactly the kind of guy I needed to meet at that point in life: faith-filled, yet cool and normal. Mike was athletic, personable, and laughed often. Everyone relaxed around him. He was an all-around great guy.
Mike was leading a faith-formation small group and asked me to join. He was low-key about it, basically just saying this is something that I may enjoy and would be good for me. I was a typical 19 year old - not a bad kid, but not devout and definitely not the Steubenville poster boy. I liked Mike a lot and was honored he asked me; so, I thought, what the heck, why not.
Looking back, that weekly semester-long small group was a major catalyst in my spiritual growth. I met other sophomores who were in a similar place in their faith, and we grew together.
When the topic of daily prayer came up, Mike challenged us to pray fifteen minutes every day. That seemed like an awful lot, but he proposed it in a way that made it sound attractive and doable. When I’d see him around the dorm or campus, he would smile and flash five fingers three times and mouth the word “fifteen!” when he saw me...accompanied always by his goofy laugh. I did not want to let Mike down, and knew he’d ask us about it, so I just started doing it. Before I knew it, I had begun to develop a habit of prayer.
Sooner or later, every disciple of Jesus is positioned to invite someone else to faith... someone whose future as a disciple may depend on it. If we lack the basic competence to invite someone to Christ, or at least the willingness to try and to learn, we will fail to see the fruits of mission, we will fail to experience what Pope Francis calls “the delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing.”
Between the poles of obnoxious proselytizing and timid reluctance lies a happy medium, a comfortable space of invitation that both honors and challenges, cashing in on the trust that has been earned through friendship, and leading to the next level.
This is an area where I have personally struggled. An easygoing personality helps me build trust. And I'm good at one-on-ones with believers who wish to go deeper. But that step in between, “making the ask,” has always been hard for me. Maybe I’m afraid of pushing too hard, scaring people off. Or perhaps in my insecurity, I am afraid of rejection. At any rate, I know I have missed opportunities, and this is a sadness.
I think back to Mike and the risk he took in asking me to join his small group, and the fruit it bore. And I can’t help but think of the thousands of other people just like I was, and stayed there, for the simple reason that no one ever invited them to something more.
Different Types of Invitation
A Spirit-filled discernment is needed to invite in a way that is timely, respectful, appropriately challenging, and filled with honor and respect. My dad says, “Any fool can tell a man what he needs to hear. Only the Holy Spirit knows what he is willing to listen to.” Let us listen to the Holy Spirit and beg his guidance!
If we are people of prayer, listening and dialing into God regularly, we will begin to notice inspirations and nudges that move us to take the risk and make the ask. The more we practice, the better we get. We can’t be afraid to fail. Sometimes, our invitation will we rejected. It happened to our Lord! That did not stop him from trying, nor should it stop us.
There are many types of invitation, depending on where the person is at in their spiritual journey. It may be an invitation to a small group; a service trip; a retreat; a one-on-one spiritual conversation. It may be an invitation to say a prayer with or for; to come to confession or back to church; or even to make the act of faith itself. It may be an invitation to read the Scriptures; or to pray more, as Mike did with me. But we simply cannot get around the fact that in order to be disciple-making disciples, we will need to get comfortable - and competent - inviting others to follow the Master we follow.
Jesus took risks and invited boldly. He invited Peter to drop his nets; Matthew to leave his tax booth; the woman caught in adultery to leave her sin. He invited himself to the home of Zacchaeus for dinner (!); he invited Andrew and John to “come and see.” They said yes. You and I are disciples today because Jesus - and people who are his disciples - have invited us, somewhere along the way, and we said yes.
Jesus invited the rich young man to sell his possessions and give to the poor; the Pharisees and Scribes to repent and believe; the Jewish disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood. They said no. And yet... at least Jesus asked. He invited, he respected, he risked - and thus made a proposal to their reason and freedom, he gave them something to accept or reject. Do we?
This next week, pray and ask for God to show you one person that is ready for an invitation - YOUR invitation - and go do it! Then... let us know what happened!
- For more on inviting the act of faith, see this excellent piece by Jim Schuster, the last in a wonderful series
- Whose invitation helped you grow in faith and draw closer to God?
- Have you ever thanked this person? Would you consider doing so?
- To whom have you made such an invitation?
- What fears or insecurities may prevent you from inviting?
- How might you begin taking practical steps to overcome such fears?
- Who in your life may be ready for your invitation?